Category Archives: Feast of the Guardian Angels

Autumn Glow, or Your October Book of Days

We are well into autumn now. It is October, the Feast, today on this second day of the month, of the Guardian Angels, and this evening, with the setting sun, comes Sukkot in the Jewish calendar, a holiday known also as the Feast of Tabernacles. A lot of the holidays / holy days that are not in my own family’s tradition are things I experience peripherally, and this is the case with Sukkot, which I associate with citrus. In particular, it is the fruit called etrog that is part of the Sukkot holiday. It is a very thick skinned citrus with an intoxicating fragrance. I’ve only ever held one etrog, but the experience stuck with me, for scent is a great portal to memory, is it not?

And so this year this is how October begins, with angels and intoxicating fragrance. It is for us a time of birthdays, too: Seth’s birthday was on the 30th of September, and my mom, she turns 94 today on the 2nd. At least we think so. We always celebrated on the 3rd, but a few years ago documentation surfaced that suggested we’d been celebrating on the wrong day and that Mom was actually born on the 2nd. And yet stories persist that really support the idea that she was born on the 3rd, for her middle name is Rosaria, bestowed upon her because she was born on the Feast of the Madonna del Rosario… which is on the 7th, but is often moved to the First Sunday of October, and in 1926, guess what? The First Sunday of October was on the 3rd. Anyway, our policy now is pretty much to just celebrate both days. Things were no different with her father: we celebrated Grandpa’s birthday on the 23rd of November forever, but looking back at records, the 21st may have been more accurate. So. What can you do? Perhaps there are benefits to a nonchalant approach to things like birthdays.

Be that as it may, I am here today mainly to bestow our monthly gift upon you: it’s the Convivio Book of Days calendar, this time for October. Cover star: the beautiful barns at Chosen Land, the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community in Maine, with a maple in the foreground, glowing golden. Appropriate for so many reasons: 1) no place does autumn quite like New England; 2) Seth and I were visiting Chosen Land this very time of year two Octobers ago (and that’s when I snapped that photo); and 3) it is the month of Hallowe’en, a most spirited time of year, and I don’t think I know of any place that is so attuned to the spirits of those who have come and gone quite so much as Chosen Land. The Shakers were and are very welcoming to the idea that the spirit world is quite adjacent to the physical world, and mysteries run deep there. These are the things Seth and I like to tap into as this beautiful month unfolds and as we approach Hallowe’en at its close… which ushers in all the Days of the Dead that follow, through early November, to Martinmas on the 11th. The calendar will serve as a good companion to this blog, and to the annual Convivio Hallowe’en Dispatch from Lake Worth… and if you’d like to receive that story, please subscribe here. (The Convivio Dispatch is a whole other animal from the Convivio Book of Days Blog; it is a very occasional newsletter… but more often than not it’s not a newsletter at all and most definitely more of a story––essentially it is me, writing creative nonfiction.) If you don’t get it in your inbox already… well, I do think you’ll like getting it.

October comes and we are closer to the height of our red letter days in the wheel of the year, the ones that brighten the darkness: Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), and Advent, the precursor to Christmas. We heartily believe in the value of both: of remembering those who came before and keeping those channels open, and of a slow approach to Christmas. Please take a look, if you will, by clicking here. You’ll see pages devoted just to Dia de Muertos and to Advent, and to lots of other things… oh, and that’s my mom you’ll see there, the birthday girl herself, at the top of the page, fishing from a row boat, circa 1950.

Our very best wishes to you this golden October and these autumnal days. Please stay safe, please stay well, please treat each other as you would hope to be treated. Much love involved.


Angelic Days

This week, September transitions to October. An ending and a beginning in the midst of autumn and it is a week overseen by shining beings, for these are days traditionally given to angels: In three days’ time, on October the 2nd, we celebrate the Feast of the Guardian Angels, and today, the 29th of September, brings the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel––a day better known as Michaelmas.

The one that comes later is more personal, a day set aside to honor our personal guardian angels. It is a very old tradition, one that dates to the Fourth Century, when folks began setting up altars in their homes on the feast in honor of their angelic protectors. The one that comes today––Michaelmas (pronounced mick-il-mus)––begins with Michael the Archangel but has come to honor angels in general. Michaelmas is traditionally a night for a dinner of roast goose, and afterward, roasted nuts. But it is the humble blackberry that is most traditional for this day: In Scotland, there are Struan Micheil, Michaelmas bannocks, somewhat like a scone but more of a flatbread, cut into wedges, comprised of equal parts oats, barley, and rye, and traditionally made without the use of metal: wooden fork, wooden or ceramic bowl, baking stone. The bannocks are served with blackberries or blackberry jam, for it was Michael the Archangel who battled Satan, the fallen angel, and when Satan fell to Earth, it was in a bramble patch––a blackberry patch––that he landed. Legend has it that each year after Michaelmas, Satan returns to curse and spit upon the brambles that he landed upon, which is not so surprising: Bramble patches are thorny and painful. You’d probably curse and spit upon them, too, if you fell into a bramble patch. Be that as it may, many people will not eat blackberries after Michaelmas for this reason, and so they’ll eat their fill of the plump, juicy berries today.

My favorite part of this particular day, though, is that it is a chance to recite a litany of names––while Michaelmas is another old feast that comes out of the Catholic church, various traditions will honor today Michael as well as his companions, Gabriel and Raphael. Still others will include Uriel, Raguel, Ramiel, and Sariel. I love these names; they roll past my lips in an ancient and mysterious tongue, and the further down the roster we go, the more mysterious the names become. To speak them is to cross a fascinating linguistic bridge to the past. The “-el” suffix of these angelic names is Sumerian in origin, signifying “brightness” or “shining,” names that in their true form would be Micha-el, Gabri-el, Rapha-el, Uri-el, Ragu-el, Rami-el, Sari-el. The list goes on: Camael, Jophiel, Zadkiel, and Anael, Simiel and Oriphiel, then on to Metatron, Israfil, and Malak al-Maut. It is a walk across an ancient bridge of etymology that connects to the Akkadian ilu (radiant one), Babylonian ell (shining one), Old Welsch ellu (shining being), Old Irish aillil (shining), Anglo-Saxon aelf (radiant being), and English elf (shining being).

Please join me tomorrow, 3 PM Eastern on Wednesday September 30, for Book Arts 101: Home Edition… it’s Episode 23 and this one is titled “Calling all Angels” and it is all about these angelic things, and more. Watch on Facebook Live and if you can’t make it at 3, worry not, video is posted immediately after the broadcast at our Facebook page.

A reminder, too, about our new embroidered protective face masks from Chiapas. Straight to the point: they are made by an extended family there whose traditional income source (tourism to Mexico) vanished with the pandemic. But in August, they began making face masks and they are just exquisite and you’ll love them and we love the fact that every purchase directly supports the family. They appreciate every order, and so do we. Click here to see them and to order… and yes, there are specials and free domestic shipping offers! (International orders? Write me at <> and we’ll see what we can do to get you a great price for shipping, too.)

Image: Detail from “Christ in the Arms of Two Angels” by Juan de Juanes. Oil on panel, c. 16th century. [Public domainvia Wikimedia Commons.



Walk Us Through This One

It was Michaelmas a few days ago, but come the Second of October we reach an old old holiday, a feast of the Church little known today but an important one, I think; one that goes back to the Fourth Century. It’s the Feast of the Guardian Angels. While Michaelmas at the end of September celebrated St. Michael the Archangel and all his companions, this feast is of a more personal nature. Guardian angels are like that, no? They take care of us on a one-to-one level.

Believers back in the Fourth Century and for many centuries beyond would build altars in their homes on this day in honor of their guardian angels. Do they exist? Well, that is a matter for each of us to decide. I have more than once felt protected in ways that may just be coincidental but that also seem strangely beyond coincidence. Both situations involved automobiles. There was the time Seth and I were driving north through Georgia through incessant rain and found ourselves, in a strange slowdown of time, on the other side of an accident that involved multiple vehicles. It was all intense calmness and Jane Siberry was singing “Old Man River” or “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and I managed to drive us around the chaos outside our bubble as it all unfolded. Seth had been thinking of his grandparents at the time and later said he felt serenely protected. And on my own, there was the random driver years ago who pulled in front of me on the road and slowed me down just long enough to protect me from the driver at the intersection ahead of us both who blew through a stop sign. He certainly got an earful from me as he pulled in front of me, but were it not for him, I would have been broadsided by the car that did not stop. It does seem at times like I get through life with a measure of help from people just like this. What if it’s always the same person? A guided meditation many years ago, on this very subject, revealed a name to me: Pedro. Since then, I have a feeling it is Pedro who watches over my blunderings and intercedes when necessary.

As we learnt at Michaelmas, angels appear in belief systems throughout the world: all the major religions and then some. They typically appear as bright and shining beings, winged… but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think they blend in with the rest of us, doing their work as needed. Perhaps driving slowly in cars and getting in our way, when necessary.

My mother, whose birthday we always celebrated on October 3rd, seems to actually have been born on the 2nd. I don’t know what was going on in that house she grew up in, but there were all kinds of mix ups about birthdays. This latest one was revealed to us only recently. If she was indeed born on October 2nd (and official records seem to suggest she was, despite a lifetime of October 3rd birthday parties), then she was born on the Feast of the Guardian Angels. That’s a pretty good date to enter this world, I’d say. My dad, too, had an angelic connexion: he never went by his real name––he found it a little too ethnic when he was a boy––but his parents named him Angelo, which, of course, is Angel. He comes from a long line of Angelos and Angelas and even Arcangelos and Arcangelas.

No matter your beliefs about angels, one thing is certain: they are a constant, even today, in our culture. Paintings, films, stories, songs. Jane Siberry captures the guardian angel spirit best, I think, in her song “Calling All Angels.” The original was a duet with fellow Canadian k.d. lang, recorded for Jane’s 1993 album When I Was a Boy. It is perhaps Jane’s best known song, and yet she never made an official video for it. It has, however, been recorded numerous times on mobile phones during concerts, and this year, I’ve found a new version to share with you. And so here is Jane Siberry with k.d lang singing “Calling All Angels” at the Secret Society in Portland, Oregon, December 6, 2014. That was St. Nicholas’s Day… but that’s another story, for another time.

Image: When you get right down to it, angels figure in so many of my favorite things. Here’s a detail from a Shaker gift drawing by Sister Miranda Barber, 1848. The Shakers who made drawings like these believed they acted simply as the medium through which the images were sent from heaven… hence the idea that the drawings were gifts.